GREEN BAY, Wis. –There may be a silver lining to the high cost of fuel that the transportation industry is presently coping with.
Fleets such as Schneider National are experiencing safety and environmental benefits as a result of their quest to improve driver fuel efficiency.
Schneider has trained approximately 1,000 drivers in fuel management, and its vice-president of safety and driver training Don Osterberg says the company has reaped a 0.2 mpg improvement since the training. Osterberg explains that when the company monitors the mpg performance of its fleet, it also recognizes that different applications will have a different mean and median mpg result.
“So if you’re a local operator doing a lot of metropolitan driving, they’ll have a different mpg profile than the over-the-road fleet,”he says. Schneider National has done a great deal of analysis on its fleet’s mpg improvement. The company lists its drivers from the best mpg performers to the worst. As fuel prices continued to go up, Schneider identified its 1,000 worst drivers for mpg.
“With that group, we’ve actually measured and have seen a sustained improvement of about 0.2 mpg,” says Osterberg. “While that sounds like a small number, when you look across our fleet and the number of miles that we drive, the 0.2 improvement represents a dramatic reduction in our fuel costs. We’ve been very pleased with that.”
Part of the training program involves the use of a simulator. Osterberg says new and experienced drivers were required to spend about 15 hours on the simulator, developing fuel-efficient driving techniques. If Schneider National used a conventional truck, that exercise would require about 2.2 gallons per hour of fuel for each student, which amounts to about 34 gallons the company saves per student trained.
“Just using simulation as opposed to putting the drivers’ over-the-road for those 15 hours, has saved us almost a million gallons of fuel in the two-and-a-half years that we have been using simulation,” he says.
“We burn less fuel when we’re training with simulators versus in an actual truck. And the training that we conduct on fuel management has also yielded additional fuel savings for us.”
Osterberg says that fuel management training by simulation “is one of those gifts that keep on giving” since the company is not only reducing the amount of fuel that it burns, but also reducing its carbon footprint.
“So we’re really serving, not only the financial benefit of the organization by reducing fuel consumption and fuel cost, but we also have the second positive effect of reducing harmful emissions to the environment. So this is kind of a classic win/win from our perspective,” says Osterberg. The safety and driver training specialist advises that there are a few key ways to improve fuel mileage. First, Osterberg recommends that drivers carefully spec’ and understand their equipment, matching the engines and transmissions for ideal shifting.
“You train your drivers to shift in that optimal torque range,” he suggests.
But while equipment spec’s are an important part of fuel management training, driver behaviour is also a consideration. Schneider recently reduced the maximum speed of its fleet, and speed measurement is now a component of the drivers’ bonus program. While there’s a number of key tenants to fuel management, Osterberg says the number one thing a driver can do to improve fuel consumption is to slow down.
Slowing down has also produced some impressive safety benefits.
“So far this year to date, we’ve had 11.43% fewer preventable accidents per million miles than we had last year,” says Osterberg.
The company has enjoyed other impressive safety achievements attributed to its fuel management strategy. One of those is what the safety and driver training department calls its “preventable major accident frequency.” Those are accidents that have either serious injury, fatality, or monetary exposure worth greater than $100,000.
“We’ve had 59.4% fewer preventable major accidents than we had last year,” says Osterberg.
Further, Schneider National has achieved: 32.56% fewer lane change accidents than a year ago; 50% fewer rollovers; and 25.29% fewer rear-end collisions.
“Let’s face it, there are multiple things that contribute to that,” says Osterberg. “Certainly reducing speed helps. Reduced congestion by virtue of there is less traffic helps. The sum of all those things yields the results that I just summarized, but we’re certainly seeing improved safety.”
Schneider National did another analysis that strongly supports a correlation between fuel management and safety. The safety and driver education department compared its best 100 drivers with its worst 100 drivers, for mpg efficiency. Its best 100 drivers for mpg had 37% fewer accidents than the company’s worst 100 mpg drivers. The company expanded this study to another level and compared its best 500 drivers with its worst 500 drivers for mpg. The best mpg drivers had an accident rate 23% lower than the bottom 500 drivers for mpg. The education department took the analysis to a third level, and examined the 1,000 best drivers for mpg versus its 1,000 worst drivers, and the best drivers had a 21% lower accident rate.
“I know that driving behaviour manifests itself in multiple ways,” says Osterberg. “But suffice it to say, if you can improve the mpg of your fleet, you will have an ancillary positive benefit of reducing crash rates with that group of drivers. So, there’s a multiplier in terms of the benefit that goes beyond fuel cost itself, (including) environmental impacts and it really penetrates into the safety realm as well.”
The safety and driver training specialist is obviously pleased with the company’s fuel management strategy, but Osterberg enjoys even greater personal satisfaction with the improvements the company has achieved with its safety record, especially a reduction in traffic incidents.
“In this business one is too many,” he says. “One accident, one injury is too many and we strive for a goal of zero and we work hard toward that. But when you’re talking about double-digit improvement year-over-year, yes I’m delighted with that.”